Friday 31 March 2023

Uncovering the Red Tape of Clean Water in Costa Rica

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31 March 2023 - At The Banks - BCCR

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(OP-ED) Imagine having to haul water to your home, or worse, relying on illegal sources just to quench your thirst. This is the reality for many in Costa Rica. But how hard is it to have a reliable potable water source in this beautiful country? With a little help from the professionals and a dose of patience, it can be done.

Before investing in a property, make sure your water source is up to snuff. If the property is hooked up to the local water district (ASADA), ensure you have a “Water Availability” letter (Carta de Disponibilidad de Agua) confirming your connection to the city water. On the other hand, if the property relies on a water well, stream, or natural spring, make sure the water source has a valid “Concession” to extract the water.

If you’re starting from scratch, don’t build before you have a secure water source. If the property has no public water source, the first step in getting a private water well in Costa Rica is obtaining the necessary permits, which can take anywhere from 2-6 months. You’ll need to secure approvals from several government institutions, including MINAE (Department of Water), SENARA (National Groundwater, Irrigation, and Drainage Service), and AyA (National Water and Sewer Institute).

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Next, you’ll need to determine the location of the well, choose a drilling method, and drill the well. Samples of the water and soil will be collected during the drilling process to assess the quality and presence of contaminants. Once the well is drilled, pump tests will be conducted, and a final report submitted to the government. But that’s not the end of the journey. You’ll still need to apply for a “Concession” to extract water from the well, a process that can take up to a year.

The water laws in Costa Rica can be a hurdle for investment and access to clean water. The bureaucracy can be a maze to navigate, but a few tweaks could make all the difference:

  • Streamline the permit application process.
  • Merge the permitting and concession processes.
  • Allow shared water concessions from a water source.
  • Implement time goals for approval or denial of permits
  • Certify drilling companies every five years, through written exams to prove drilling knowledge.
  • Implement an Industry Standard of grouting procedures to prevent groundwater contamination and eliminate mandatory setbacks from water wells.
  • Hire paid professionals to manage local water companies. ASADAS
  • Implement a tiered water fee program based on project size and classification.

With a proactive government and a little push from the public, we can bring Costa Rica out of the bureaucratic quagmire and ensure everyone has access to clean water, a basic human right. Overregulation is not the solution, but by working together, we can strike a balance between access to water and protecting our groundwater resources.

Article by Jerry Werth, Pura Vida Drilling and Well Services (


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